ON most Saturday afternoons during an Adelaide winter across the early 1910s there would be a long, drawn-out roar of "Olivah-h-h-h!" around Adelaide Oval and suburban football fields featuring Port Adelaide.
It echoed to the Middle East during World War I when an Anzac among a battalion travelling by train to Cairo yelled, "Olivah-h-h-h" on seeing a football game being played along the banks of the River Nile.
"I can tell you Harold," wrote Corporal William Powell to his close friend, Port Adelaide premiership hero Harold Oliver, "it sent a thrill of pleasure right through me to hear the good old name and know that others beside myself had not forgotten you."
Powell did not return from the battlefields of Belgium to again hear - or see - the excited reactions to Oliver's high-marking, match-winning exploits while his legend was made as one of major drawcards of South Australian football during Port Adelaide's first golden era in black and white.
One of the saddest notes from Oliver's file is how Port Adelaide administrative giant "Big Bob" McLean recorded the premiership captain's final days in the club's centenary book in 1970. After leaving the Riverland to retire in Adelaide's inner-western suburbs, Oliver died in November, 1958 aged 67. Only McLean and club chairman Charles Darwent were at Oliver's funeral - five decades after he had drawn thousands through the turnstiles to entertain football fans with his extraordinary talent.
In Port Adelaide's 150th season, the anniversary should not pass without saluting one of the club's first superstars. As one devoted fan wrote in the Daily Herald on Oliver's retirement from league football, "What he has done for his team will not be easily forgotten by the public of Port Adelaide."
VICTOR York Richardson, the Magarey Medallist and Test cricketer, hailed Harold Oliver as "the finest all-round exponent of Australian football in my playing and watching experience of it".
Until Russell Ebert arrived at Alberton in 1968, Oliver was the greatest export from the Riverland to the Port Adelaide Football Club. Both Ebert and Oliver are in the Port Adelaide "Greatest Team, 1870-2000" - and both draw remarkable comparisons considering their extraordinary versatility and capacity to play in demanding positions. They often carried Port Adelaide on their shoulders to victory.
Both would be comrades in the exclusive club of Magarey Medallists had Oliver not been disqualified from the 1912 deliberations by the umpires for the SANFL's highest individual award. Oliver was reported early in the home-and-away season, during the third round, at Norwood Oval where he was part of the "disgraceful display of fisticuffs". As far as his football that day was concerned, the critics noted that "Oliver, at half-forward, was brilliant in the air; he is probably a finer player this year than ever".
How Oliver did not wear a Magarey Medal before World War I - while collecting so many other awards and so much high praise - remains on of football's anomalies.
Oliver joined Port Adelaide in 1910 and by the end of his 107-game career - that was interrupted by World War I - he was a member of the 1914 "Invincibles", a premiership captain, a three-time Champion of Australia and a cult figure in South Australian football.
Richardson's eulogy is among many, both in South Australia and interstate, that hail Oliver as a "super footballer" who carved out an "extraordinary career".
Former North Adelaide and State rover Lloyd Davies in 1925 remarked: "If you put the question to 99 out of every hundred football followers in Port Adelaide, 'Who was the finest all-round footballer you ever saw?' without hesitation the answer would be, Harold Oliver."
Such high praise was not limited to the good folk in the Port Adelaide district.
During the 1914 Australian national carnival in Sydney, Port Adelaide centre half-back John Robertson was awarded the "Referee" newspaper's gold medal as the best-performed South Australian player at the interstate football series.
"But," the newspaper's lead football scribe commented in his summary of the carnival, "the man who filled my eye as the 'beau ideal' of a footballer was W. H. Oliver. He was not as consistent as Robertson, but there was an ease and grace about his work which was unmistakably proclaimed him the master."
At the same carnival, former Tasmanian representative Charlie Goddard described Oliver as "the noblest Roman of them all ... no man in any other State team displayed more attractive football."
Has there ever been a more versatile champion? In his air work he never had a superior. Unlike most good high flyers he could mark from any position. He could spring forward or backward, or from either side with seemingly no effort, and had a pair of hands which gripped the ball like a vice.
Who of us will ever forget the yell, "Ol-i-var" which came from so many throats when the ball was sailing through the air in his direction? He could kick a long straight kick, drop, place or punt; and with either foot. He was an expert at passing a ball with either stab kick or low sharp punt. His ground play was of the best, while he invariably got rid of the ball to his side's advantage.
Oliver was "at home" in any position on the field. For his club he at different times played half-forward, half-back and centre. He was called into the following (role) at odd times when his side was hard pressed. At Norwood Oval in 1910, with only a few minutes to go, and the redoubtable Redlegs leading by two points, the champion was called into the ruck and the change was electrical. The ball was thrown in from the boundary in the Norwood back lines, Oliver soared over the heads of a bunch, knocked it to (Angelo) Congear, who miss-kicked the ball out of bounds on the opposite wing. Again thrown in, the high-flyer knocked the ball to the same rover, who for the second time kicked the ball into the boundary umpire's territory. When the ball was thrown into play for the third time in a few brief minutes Oliver again distinguished himself by accurately knocking the ball to Congear, who this time made no mistake, sending it through the big timber for the coveted six points. Before the umpire reached the centre to bounce the ball the bell rang with the seasiders victorious by four points.
Tom Leahy, after a match at Alberton a few years ago, said North Adelaide would certainly have won had Port Adelaide not possessed a superman in Oliver.*
*Oliver did not finish the match against North Adelaide. Injury from a bad collision during the last term forced him off the field - after he had kicked seven goals at half-forward "and giving one of the most dazzling displays of marking probably ever witnessed".
Oliver regarded his tasks at centre half-forward "as the hardest of all to play".
"Usually your opponent is about the best player in the other team," Oliver said, "and whereas the man at centre half-forward has to take the ball and then turn, the half-back plays straight ahead."
IN HIS OWN WORDS
It was 1910 - I was then 19 - that I arrived in Adelaide from Lyrup, on the River Murray, and was selected for Port Adelaide without one of the team's selectors ever having seen me play.
Actually, I played my first football in Broken Hill after being taken there to live when a child of five. For 12 years my home was Broken Hill. I played junior football and in 1908 gained a place with South Broken Hill in the league there.
Next year I went to Lyrup, then newly established as the only true community centre in South Australia ... I played for the local team and from never having won a match before, they took the premiership of the River Murray Association.
After a year in Lyrup, I was thinking of joining my sister in Queensland, but the two Musgrave boys, who were playing for West Suburbans in Adelaide, induced me to take my first trip to the city.
At the time I had received letters from Sir Edwin Smith, (president) of Norwood, and Jack Woollard, captain of Port Adelaide, inviting me to train with them.
The Musgraves and I reached the city on Saturday morning. They had me registered as a player, and the same afternoon I turned out for West Suburbans against Semaphore Central.
Later they took me down to have a look at the ships at Port Adelaide. Remember, this is my first visit to the city. While at Port Adelaide, I remembered the letter from Jack Woollard, and we decided to go round to see him. He in turn told me to see Jimmy Hodge, then secretary (of the Port Adelaide Football Club).
I had no football togs with me, so I went on to Alberton Oval in long pants, ordinary boots and with my coat off. Afterwards, I dressed and went home.
Next morning I had a telegram from Jimmy Hodge reading, "Picked for tomorrow. Contact me before 5 o'clock."
I saw him, and he told me that he had selected me on his own initiative, as there were no selectors at the ground when I trained. He also said it was the first time he could recall such a thing being done.
Anyway, the first game of the season was postponed because of the death of King Edward VII.
Jimmy Hodge said he would find a job for me, and he did. It was shovelling slag at Port Adelaide. I started in the morning and finished at lunch-time the same day.
I was thoroughly disgruntled, and confided my feelings to Mr Musgrave, father of my two pals. He sympathised and told me to go over to Hindmarsh and see Joe Andrews with a view to training with West Torrens.
I did and was all set to play with the gold-and-blues when there was another hitch - Port Adelaide had signed me up on the Saturday morning and refused to allow me to play elsewhere in the league.
So for the next three or four weeks I stripped with West Suburbans. Then one day Jimmy Hodge asked me to go on a fishing trip with him and some other Port Adelaide officials. During the day matters were talked over, and that night they came with me to collect my belongings to take me back to Port Adelaide - and a new job.
My first league game was against North Adelaide (a 21-point win at Jubilee Oval next to Adelaide Oval on June 25, 1910) and when I took one or two good marks against one of their champions, I was in the "boom".
ONE black-and-white image remains of Harold Oliver rising in front of the old Adelaide Oval scoreboard in a style that created legends with Roy Cazaly and Alex Jesaulenko in the VFL.
The photograph is of Oliver during Port Adelaide's victory in a league semi-final against Sturt on September 5, 1914, a fortnight before Port Adelaide completed its "Invincibles" season by successfully defending the SAFL premiership with an unbeaten record.
By 1927, Adelaide's now-lost afternoon newspaper The News had a "marking controversy" on its hands as debate raged on "the best high mark within the memory of football enthusiasts in South Australia".
Oliver was just five years out of league football but still carried "fame far and wide for his high-flying exploits". Former North Adelaide captain Percy Lewis described Oliver as being "in a class by himself". Glenelg vice-captain Charles O'Malley declared Oliver was "a wonderful mark in any circumstances".
At Alberton, The News was destined to get just one answer while club greats recalled "how the cry would go around the ground when the brilliant (Oliver) soared head and shoulders above the crushes - O-L-I-V-E-R!"
Port Adelaide secretary Charles Hayter said: "There are good ones today, but even they do not fly like Oliver used to."
Frank Hansen was the Port Adelaide and league leading goalkicker during the pre-World War I era and watched Oliver as a team-mate in SANFL and State football. On local and national stages, he saw Oliver as "remarkably supple at his best as a footballer and his leaping was always graceful."
Sturt captain Frank Golding regarded the Port Adelaide-born journeyman and Australian Football Hall of Famer Phil Matson and Oliver as "the most phenomenal high marks seen in South Australia".
Oliver nominated Matson - "some of my greatest tussles were with Phil" - as capable of "a great high mark".
In his tribute to Oliver, North Adelaide champion Lloyd Davies wrote: "Phil Matson once confessed that he never received a trouncing in his life as that administered by Oliver in the final match of 1910.
"Harry Cumberland, Magarey Medallist and champion follower, admitted having seen no better player.
"Mick Donaghy, a vice-captain for Victoria against South Australia and a vice-captain later for South Australia against Victoria, said that Oliver was one of the finest footballers he had seen.
"In addition to being possessed of much more than average ability of a footballer," wrote Davies, "he was one of the most gentlemanly players that ever took part in the game. He was a gentleman on and off the field and commanded respect of all who knew him."
OLIVER closed his league football career at Port Adelaide in 1922 amid tension created by needing to manage his fruit block at Berri.
Having sat out the 1919 home-and-away season to concentrate on the needs of his property, Oliver was offered a Rover 3.5 horsepower motor cycle - bought after a collection among keen supporters led by club chairman Arthur Swain - to ensure he could make the 240-kilometre trip from Berri to Adelaide to continue as a league player.
Oliver was captain of Port Adelaide's 1921 premiership side, but his demands for financial compensation - in particular for the trip to Hobart in 1921 and the upcoming tour of Sydney in 1922 - brought an end to his league career after five matches of the 1922 home-and-away season. He finished in the same way he began - against North Adelaide.
Oliver remained on the football field with the Berri Football Club. He tormented defenders kicking 11 goals for the Upper Murray Football Association combined team in the opening round of the first statewide country championship in 1929. Oliver was 38.
Oliver took off his boots for the last time on October 9, 1931 with the Berri Football Club presenting him a silver entree dish that carried the inscription: "In appreciation of services rendered to football generally and to the Berri Club in particular."
Oliver turned to coaching, achieving premiership success with Berri in 1938.
Oliver never disconnected from the Port Adelaide Football Club while adding to his fame as a country footballer.
In 1927, Port Adelaide secretary Charles Hayter wrote a letter of congratulation to Oliver for recommending the Wade brothers - John and Steve - join Port Adelaide from the Berri Football Club to become the "finds of the season".
"Jack" Wade played 49 league games in three seasons at Port Adelaide (1927-1929) and stood out of football in 1930 to earn his clearance to VFL club South Melbourne where he played 26 matches as part of the "Foreign Legion" from 1931-1933.
Steve Wade played 14 matches at Port Adelaide while tormented by injury across 1927-1928.
On behalf of the committee and members of Port Adelaide, I desire to thank you for the find judgment you showed in sending down the Wade brothers. For your information I would mention that in my opinion John Wade will be playing interstate football next season. During the last three matches he has been one of the best players on the ground. His brother Steve has shown himself to be a footballer of more than ordinary ability. He has been most unfortunate during the season on account of receiving one of the worst ankle injuries that has been treated by the trainers. It put him out of action for seven matches.
Charles Hayter, Port Adelaide Football Club secretary
BEFORE State-of-Origin determined national titles from the 1980s, only one group of South Australians - including Harold Oliver - had claimed the Australian crown, at the national carnival in Adelaide during August 1911.
Oliver represented South Australia 14 times, captaining the State team in 1921.
His most memorable performance in State colours (chocolate and blue) was holding off Victoria at Adelaide Oval in 1912 when the Big V changed its line-up at half-time to overcome a poor start (1.6 to 7.4).
State (and Sturt) captain Bert Renfrey reacted to the Victorians scoring four goals during the first 10 minutes of the third term by moving Oliver from half-back to half-forward. It was his lone tactical move. He even resisted calling an extra player onto the ball.
The result was seen by every onlooker. Though the Victorians attacked as strongly as before, Oliver rose to the occasion and they did not score again during the quarter, and South Australia recovering, won in the end. The visiting captain expressed the opinion on (Oliver's) showing in that match Victoria had no equal to him.
South Australia won by 19 points, 9.8 (62) to 6.7 (43).
Oliver was inducted in the inaugural call to the South Australian Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Many would suggest Oliver merits a place in the national hall.
LEADING sports historian Bernard Whimpress noted recently the eulogies to Oliver the footballer were "airbrushed" to ignore an incident during the Lock 5-Renmark v Berri-Barmera combined teams football match at Berri Oval on June 20, 1925.
Oliver had been persistently mocked by a group of spectators behind the northern goal for five minutes before he tired of the heckling. He walked up to one of his taunters, John Purcell, putting his left hand to Purcell's face and pushed him.
At quarter-time, Purcell went onto the field while Oliver was looking to take position at the southern goal. After making "obscene expressions" towards Oliver, Purcell struck Oliver on the right side of his jaw while Oliver had his arms folded. Oliver hit Purcell on the mouth with his left hand. Purcell fell to ground, jumped up quickly and threw another blow to Oliver's right jaw.
When Oliver returned to the northern goal for the third term, he was jeered again by Purcell and his mates - but there was no further altercation.
Purcell drove home after the match and became seriously ill late that night. He died on Monday afternoon. A coroner determined a fortnight later that Purcell had died from meningitis - "induced from a blow struck by Oliver".
Oliver had been arrested by police on the Monday when he was driving to Paringa with a load of fruit and while Purcell was still alive. He was later charged with murder, but was committed by the coroner for trial on charges of manslaughter in the Criminal Court. On Thursday, September 3, 1925 a jury took less than five minutes to return a verdict of not guilty, accepting Oliver had acted in self defence.
DON'T TELL THE DOCTOR
OLIVER finished the 1914 "Invincibles" season with a story that would torment today's medicos dealing with concussion issues in football.
After Port Adelaide completed the 1914 SAFL unbeaten and claimed the Champions of Australia title by beating VFL premier Carlton at Adelaide Oval, the best of the SA league were put up against the might of Alberton in an exhibition match at Jubilee Oval on the Eight Hour Day (Labour Day) holiday.
Oliver led the Port Adelaide team in the absence of captain Jack Londrigan.
In the first quarter I was brought down and hit my head heavily. I didn't know anymore until about half-way through the second term.
At the end of the first quarter, I found out later, Alec McFarlane asked me where I wanted him to play after a spell in ruck. I replied, "Don't ask me. See Jack Londrigan, he's captain."
When I did partially recover my senses in the second quarter, I couldn't make out what team we were playing against. Afterwards, I was awarded a trophy as Port Adelaide's best so I came to the conclusion that I was a better footballer unconscious than conscious.
WILLIAM HAROLD OLIVER
Born: August 12, 1891, Waukaringa, South Australia
Died: November 15, 1958 (aged 67)
Played: 107 SAFL league games with Port Adelaide, 1910-1915 and 1919-1922; also represented Port Adelaide in 13 matches in the Patriotic league, 1916-1917. State player for South Australia 14 times.
Honours: Port Adelaide premiership player, 1910, 1913, 1914 and 1921; Champions of Australia titles, 1910, 1913 and 1914; Patriotic league premiership player, 1916 and 1917; Port Adelaide best-and-fairest champion, 1911 and 1912; Port Adelaide captain, 1921; member of Port Adelaide Greatest Team (1870-2000) at half-forward.
South Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee, 2002.